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Daimler South East Asia gets its first millennial CEO

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32-year-old Cladius Steinhoff is the new boss of the Mercedes-Benz importer in Singapore.

Singapore

IF YOU think Mercedes' cars are looking more youthful, you should see its top management. On Oct 1, a new president and chief executive started work at Daimler South East Asia, which imports and wholesales Mercedes-Benz cars here. At 32, Claudius Steinhoff is the youngest person appointed to the role.

He replaces Philipp Hagenburger, a late quinquagenarian who spent two decades with the company. He was head of Daimler South East Asia for only 18 months, and left of his own accord. Not one for ostentation, Mr Hagenburger often preferred hailing a car with Grab to riding in his chauffeured Mercedes - an unassuming E-Class, instead of the company's flagship S-Class.

"Singapore is the perfect place to mark the close of my career at Daimler and Mercedes-Benz," he said in a farewell statement.

The new CEO arrives with key experience under his belt, having worked at Daimler in a variety of roles across the finance, product management and export divisions.

He was product manager for the current generation of the sporty CLS. A vital position at any carmaker, the role entails understanding what each market's customers demand of a given model, and then ensuring that the development team delivers it.

Before being posted to Singapore, Mr Steinhoff worked as executive assistant to Matthias Luhrs, head of Region Overseas Mercedes-Benz Cars. In that job, he would have had to keep on top of Mercedes sales in a multitude of countries, including Singapore.

Mr Steinhoff appears to have arrived with some understanding of the challenges that car companies face here, such as high taxes, stringent emissions standards and the Vehicle Quota System, with its unpredictable Certificate Of Entitlement prices. "Singapore is one of the most unique places in the world to own, sell and market a car," he said in a statement.

At the same time, Mr Steinhoff is taking the top job here just as Daimler is planning to overhaul its Mercedes-Benz business.

Earlier this week, global chairman and chief executive Ola Kallenius announced that he intends to slash costs at Daimler by 20 per cent in five years to lower its breakeven point. Part of that plan includes trimming the Mercedes-Benz lineup, meaning buyers will have fewer models to choose from.

Mr Steinhoff will also have to sell Singaporeans on the electric cars that Mercedes-Benz will start rolling out next year. Global chief Mr Kallenius said he wants Daimler to be seen as the leader in electric drive, but battery power is still viewed with scepticism here and electric vehicles have failed to sell well.

Given the above, Mr Steinhoff's youth is likely to be an advantage. Challenges like the sort he faces would age anyone prematurely.

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